Coal Mining, 1929

The machine man clocked in for his shift and went down
in the rattling lattice cage, swallowed whole.
He took his pride beside his fate to go down:
Down in darkness on a thin September day
below the gear at Woodhall’s Virtuewell;
Down through the narrow stooping ways of dust
chiselled deep beyond pretence and arrogance;
Down into the shafted maze of galleries
and lamps and damp and fearful gas;
Down to face his fall below a breaking prop.

Part of him resurfaced in the ambulance waggon
that shook a broken pelvis (and shoulder, ribs and legs)
along twelve dreary morphined miles towards the mercy
of the grey and gaunt infirmary… where he went down again:
Down to meet the surgeons in their antiseptic halls;
Down to months of care, preparing for the knife
which clinically killed him by infection.
Down, he left a pregnant widow with ten children
to manage in the hungry years;
Down and gone. But unforgotten in our genes.



I once knew her quite well: she was lively, bright and smart
and a kindred spirit, when we were new and keen and learning every day –
in good times, ten years past – then we were friends
But in time our paths diverged, then somehow reconverged
before a pirouette or three, in the rolling tumbling motion of the waves under our feet
slid them apart again;
Now she is 32 or three, living with a husband and her infant son
and cares that edged around her open face
when I saw her earlier today, by chance.
I’d seen her grow up, she once had said;
yet I was surprised and found I could not speak –
old fractures jarred my mind and stole my words away.


I have felt the flighting spirit close,
brought to bay and strapped onto your turning cross
to be filtered clean;
while my simple sequences collapsed
to pass their fitting through your gauge,
flickering expunged…

Although I had been sentenced when times changed,
to official mercy, then also to redemption,
I could still draw breath –
with no direction and no home, only the moment, only measures,
turning notch by notch and prong and hidden tooth by gear – 
but degree upon degree, we spent our seconds chasing minutes
heedless of your basalt face that lowers, hidden
over all our heads…

Meantime: the glass drains empty, batteries fall flat
while inner pressure will increase, inexorably – until
all my dreams are fled
(and hopes and fantasies and otherness)
just as your final persevering chase must find me,
naked and alone


The high road looked attractive then, and different –
a noble prospect of escape and opportunity:
a sure laconic fast-track to success, in a future
that would thrive on merit and good fortune.

And away:   From small-town strictures and constraints
contained within a worn out past,
from the voices who had led and nurtured us
and the sirens that had formed us;
from the grounds on which we’d lightly walked
when we first met the world.

Now youth:   Where have you gone?  Spent
on aspirations and conformity to others’ expectations
with outcomes fingered shakily, perhaps indelibly,
in a pale grey scalpel trace of memory.

Leaving us:   Continuing, to elude or to confront
a dilemma woven deeply in the fibre
of exiles’ recurring thoughts of home:  To forever mourn
the lost homeland, or make the best of it and carry on?

Mourning?   In futility, but unavoidably,
to experience what we cannot bear but have invited in;
we – the rootless, the dispossessed, the disinherited
with our (bittersweet and plangent) longings
for no-longer-knowns we feel but keep unseen
and tenderly describe as being all that there once was –
we are waiting in forlorn agonies of wishing, hoping
for a moment that will never come.

And anyway, we carry on, because we do;
until we find release, until we are renewed.

Sehnsucht ( Saudade )

Empty thoughts: a dry river in the night.
Condemned to forever replay – and enjoy –
a game whose rules are crossed
so we can never win, only hope;
endlessly forgetting the result.
More real than a clear sunrise
on a beautiful cold morning
because it touches us directly;
mere humans and yet more.
We, the godless, and our longing.

Our strange mistress, unkind,
unsentimental, alien and strange,
consumes our fat and leaves us lean,
transfiguring what’s left,
transformed in her devotion,
until at last we’re bones,
transfixed by our desires;
committed to that most elusive of ideas,
in which, in truth,
we had no choice but to believe.

A futile longing, for some thing unknown,
someone half-glimpsed, disguised,
never possessed, only borrowed, perhaps hired.
How can this feel so much was lost?
What way is there to prove this concept?

(originally published in a different version, January 2013)

The Card


How could I?
> Forget the joy, the wonder, that made it
all worthwhile;
> Listen to your voice decry, denying all
we’d found;
> Confuse identity and difference, to treat them
just the same;
> Give, then give again, and keep on giving
to an ingrate;
> Push so hard for what was promised
by a child….

A child at heart: Stubbornly
Driven to reprise hard-core neglect,
Knowing how to learn but not to grow,
Or how to ask, or give, or even to receive;
Only overwhelming joy/despair, love/hate,
Dom/sub, in anger or acceptance;

With a triple-loaded cause to celebrate:
The Nativity; your Birthday; next Ne’erday;
As redemption; as renewal; as a time
To find the bitter charcoal taste of ash
We each made the other swallow,
Cleansed on new year’s day;

For you, a princess living on a hill, an
Imagined vivid Camelot of imagery and colour;
While outside (endlessly) rain falls, waters rise,
And the past is washed away:
Roots of the land, seeds of growth
And plenty, along with last year’s scars.

Where to?

Having spent a lifetime trying
To make things as they should be,
Now I hear encouragement in voices
Giving permission to be happy;
But wonder:  In what way is
“I want this” to be preferred to
“This is what I should do”?

Is it ethics, morals or survival?

For what I’ve built has weighed
So heavily on the earth it
Can no more support the burden
And has given way beneath,
Transferring back to me
Who cannot bear alone
What I mainly shaped for one;

With duly considered irony.

But.  Now.  (With all my faults
And frailty and fairness fallen short)
How can I leave this high ground –
Overlooked though it may be –
When it’s all that I have lived in
Since my childhood world has gone
As if it never was?

Without anger, only loss.